Ken Rosenthal on Wander Franco Credit: Foul Territory Podcast

Ken Rosenthal came under fire this week for a column at The Athletic that used Wander Franco’s criminal case in the Dominican Republic as an example to highlight why MLB teams should avoid lucrative contracts for athletes in their early 20s.

On Friday’s edition of Foul Territory, a digital baseball show he cohosts with anchor Scott Braun and retired players, Rosenthal offered a lengthy response to the criticism toward his piece. That criticism largely focused on Rosenthal’s spotty coverage of the Franco situation as well as his choices in addressing it as a financial and roster construction matter. Many accused Rosenthal of overlooking the young girl Franco is accused of being in a relationship with and potentially other victims.

In his response, Rosenthal focused mostly on his journalistic choices.

“I’m accustomed to people disagreeing with me in the comments or on tweets … that’s part of the job,” Rosenthal said. “If I’m going to write opinions, people are going to have the right to say what they think. But I will say this, when the reaction is this strong and this vehement from this many people, I have to look at it as there being a disconnect between what I expected to say, what I intended my message to be, and what was received. And that’s on me.”

Rosenthal acknowledged he may have been too sweeping with his argument about young players overall by highlighting a criminal situation with Franco.

“I was really pointing out the massive risk when you give $100 million-plus contracts to guys who are 20, 21, 22 years old,” he explained. “If people were going to criticize me for saying, ‘Oh that’s obvious,’ I would have understood that more. But people really saw this as me writing about an extreme case and not one that is necessarily applicable to any other. And I would agree with that.”

Rosenthal also admitted using Franco as a jumping-off point for the column was “probably” a mistake.

“Maybe this was a bad example to use, and in retrospect, that probably was the case,” the Athletic and Fox insider said. “But my goal with any opinion column is to make people think … If I’m not clear enough and they’re getting upset for reasons that I didn’t anticipate, then something went haywire.”

After Braun pressed Rosenthal about additional criticism over Rosenthal’s inclusion of Fernando Tatis Jr., who was suspended for PED use and suffered injuries from an offseason motorcycle accident but has never been accused of criminal activity, Rosenthal doubled down.

“Padres fans … are upset with a number of things I’ve written about them over the years,” he started. “That’s their right, they can be upset … but that’s not what we’re talking about.

“The Tatis part of it, again it was all part of the discussion that I was bringing out about the risk you take with a young player where you don’t know exactly what you’re getting because it’s not a fully formed adult … I’m just making the point that these are massive risks teams make somewhat blindly.”

Rosenthal reiterated that he is not trying to come down on the side of teams and argue for smaller, later contracts for players. But his argument was that more careful consideration of these deals would help the league overall.

“Maybe this will compel teams to say, ‘You know what, let’s go a little deeper,'” Rosenthal said. “Does this kid have enough support from his family? Does he have enough support from his agents? How is his maturity level?”

Cohost and longtime Baltimore Orioles star Adam Jones then brought up the idea of athletes being targeted by the public. Jones pointed out that athletes getting enveloped in controversy can be hurt by people in the media going all-in against them when they make mistakes.

“We don’t know the outcome of this case. It’s still evolving. But certainly, we live in an age of more media saturation than ever before, and we all have to be cognizant of that,” Rosenthal responded.

“When it comes to me and writing and even speaking on Foul Territory, I don’t mind that people will comment … because in my view it’s almost a checks and balances. I know what the audience is thinking, and I know what bothers them, and I know what upsets them. And sometimes if I upset them for the wrong reasons as I seemingly did here, I’ve got to learn from that.”

If Rosenthal understood the initial problem readers had with his story, he didn’t show it here. There is a reasonable case to be made that when covering bad behavior or criminal action, sports reporters often jump to the team perspective or the organizational ramifications before considering the victims. MLB fans accused Rosenthal of doing so in this case.

Readers also pointed out how little Rosenthal had covered the Franco case before this column at The Athletic. While he may have been trying to let investigative or local reporters do their jobs there, his choice to wade into the topic in this way leaves him open for criticism. It could be seen as letting Franco off the hook to point the finger at Tampa Bay. Or it could be seen as cynical to treat the roster fallout of the Rays as more important than a young girl’s treatment.

Instead, Rosenthal responded as if he were an old-fashioned ombudsman rather than spelling out and confronting each issue directly.

[Foul Territory on YouTube]

About Brendon Kleen

Brendon is a Media Commentary staff writer at Awful Announcing. He has also covered basketball and sports business at Front Office Sports, SB Nation, Uproxx and more.